Fibromyalgia can be difficult to treat. Not all doctors are familiar with fibromyalgia and its treatment, so it is important to find a doctor who is. Many family physicians, general internists, or rheumatologists (doctors who specialize in arthritis and other conditions that affect the joints or soft tissues) can treat fibromyalgia.
Fibromyalgia treatment often requires a team approach, with your doctor, a physical therapist, possibly other health professionals, and most importantly, yourself, all playing an active role. It can be hard to assemble this team, and you may struggle to find the right professionals to treat you. When you do, however, the combined expertise of these various professionals can help you improve your quality of life.
You may find several members of the treatment team you need at a clinic. There are pain clinics that specialize in pain and rheumatology clinics that specialize in arthritis and other rheumatic diseases, including fibromyalgia.
In June 2007, the U.S. Food and Drug Administration approved Lyrica (pregabalin) as the first drug to treat fibromyalgia. Doctors also treat fibromyalgia with a variety of medications developed and approved for other purposes.
Following are some of the most commonly used categories of drugs for fibromyalgia:
Analgesics are painkillers. They range from over-the-counter acetaminophen (Tylenol) to prescription medicines, such as tramadol (Ultram), and even stronger narcotic preparations. For a subset of people with fibromyalgia, narcotic medications are prescribed for severe muscle pain. However, there is no solid evidence showing that narcotics actually work to treat the chronic pain of fibromyalgia, and most doctors hesitate to prescribe them for long-term use because of the potential that the person taking them will become physically or psychologically dependent on them.
Brand names included in this page are provided as examples only, and their inclusion does not mean that these products are endorsed. Also, if a particular brand name is not mentioned, this does not mean or imply that the product is unsatisfactory.
Nonsteroidal Anti-Inflammatory Drugs (NSAIDs)
As their name implies, nonsteroidal anti-inflammatory drugs, including aspirin, ibuprofen (Advil, Motrin), and naproxen sodium (Anaprox, Aleve), are used to treat inflammation. Although inflammation is not a symptom of fibromyalgia, NSAIDs also relieve pain. The drugs work by inhibiting substances in the body called prostaglandins, which play a role in pain and inflammation. These medications, some of which are available without a prescription, may help ease the muscle aches of fibromyalgia. They may also relieve menstrual cramps and the headaches often associated with fibromyalgia.
Perhaps the most useful medications for fibromyalgia are several in the antidepressant class. Antidepressants elevate the levels of certain chemicals in the brain, including serotonin and norepinephrine (which was formerly called adrenaline). Low levels of these chemicals are associated not only with depression, but also with pain and fatigue. Increasing the levels of these chemicals can reduce pain in people who have fibromyalgia. Doctors prescribe several types of antidepressants for people with fibromyalgia, described below.
Tricyclic antidepressants - When taken at bedtime in dosages lower than those used to treat depression, tricyclic antidepressants can help promote restorative sleep in people with fibromyalgia. They also can relax painful muscles and heighten the effects of the body's natural pain-killing substances called endorphins. Tricyclic antidepressants have been around for almost half a century. Some examples of tricyclic medications used to treat fibromyalgia include amitriptyline hydrochloride (Elavil, Endep), cyclobenzaprine (Cycloflex, Flexeril, Flexiban), doxepin (Adapin, Sinequan), and nortriptyline (Aventyl, Pamelor). Both amitriptyline and cyclobenzaprine have been proved useful for the treatment of fibromyalgia.
Selective serotonin reuptake inhibitors - If a tricyclic antidepressant fails to bring relief, doctors sometimes prescribe a newer type of antidepressant called a selective serotonin reuptake inhibitor (SSRI). As with tricyclics, doctors usually prescribe these for people with fibromyalgia in lower dosages than are used to treat depression. By promoting the release of serotonin, these drugs may reduce fatigue and some other symptoms associated with fibromyalgia. The group of SSRIs includes fluoxetine (Prozac), paroxetine (Paxil), and sertraline (Zoloft).
SSRIs may be prescribed along with a tricyclic antidepressant. Doctors rarely prescribe SSRIs alone. Because they make people feel more energetic, they also interfere with sleep, which often is already a problem for people with fibromyalgia. Studies have shown that a combination therapy of the tricyclic amitriptyline and the SSRI fluoxetine resulted in greater improvements in the study participants' fibromyalgia symptoms than either drug alone.
Mixed reuptake inhibitors - Some newer antidepressants raise levels of both serotonin and norepinephrine, and are therefore called mixed reuptake inhibitors. Examples of these medications include venlafaxine (Effexor) and nefazadone (Serzone). Researchers are actively studying the efficacy of these newer medications in treating fibromyalgia.
Benzodiazepines help some people with fibromyalgia by relaxing tense, painful muscles and stabilizing the erratic brain waves that can interfere with deep sleep. Benzodiazepines also can relieve the symptoms of restless legs syndrome, which is common among people with fibromyalgia. Restless legs syndrome is characterized by unpleasant sensations in the legs as well as twitching, particularly at night. Because of the potential for addiction, doctors usually prescribe benzodiazepines only for people who have not responded to other therapies. Benzodia-zepines include clonazepam (Klonopin) and diazepam (Valium).
In addition to the previously described general categories of drugs, doctors may prescribe others, depending on a person's specific symptoms or fibromyalgia-related conditions. For example, in recent years, two medications - tegaserod (Zelnorm) and alosetron (Lotronex) - have been approved by the FDA for the treatment of irritable bowel syndrome. Gabapentin (Neurontin) currently is being studied as a treatment for fibromyalgia. (See What Are Researchers Learning About Fibromyalgia?) Other symptomspecific medications include sleep medications, muscle relaxants, and headache remedies.
People with fibromyalgia also may benefit from a combination of physical and occupational therapy, from learning pain-management and coping techniques, and from properly balancing rest and activity.
Complementary and alternative therapies
Many people with fibromyalgia also report varying degrees of success with complementary and alternative therapies, including massage, movement therapies (such as Pilates and the Feldenkrais method), chiropractic treatments, acupuncture, and various herbs and dietary supplements for different fibromyalgia symptoms. (For more information on complementary and alternative therapies, contact the National Center for Complementary and Alternative Medicine.
Though some of these supplements are being studied for fibromyalgia, there is little, if any, scientific proof yet that they help. The FDA does not regulate the sale of dietary supplements, so information about side effects, the proper dosage, and the amount of a preparation's active ingredient may not be well known. If you are using or would like to try a complementary or alternative therapy, you should first speak with your doctor, who may know more about the therapy's effectiveness, as well as whether it is safe to try in combination with your medications. Related Articles